the ptsd story i promised you

A few posts ago, I mentioned having a PTSD episode, and being open about it, in a group setting. That post seems to have resonated with a lot of people. In that same spirit, I'm sharing this.

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I attended a week-long labour education event, part of the CLC's Winter School. Many different courses take place at the same time, each five days long; you're with the same people all week. My group was seven people from my own local, plus three other locals from our union, about 20 people in total. Our classroom was a very supportive environment, full of compassion and support, plus a lot of humour and fun.

Three days in, we finished our morning check-in, and the facilitator said: We're going to try something new. Find a partner, and one of you will be blindfolded.

That's all I heard. At the word blindfold, my head started roaring.

I thought, I'll just wait til she's finished, then I'll say something to the facilitator privately. But as the facilitator continues speaking, I'm going deeper -- my heart is racing, and it's getting harder to breathe. I felt myself beginning to disassociate. I've never had a PTSD meltdown in public, and let me tell you, it was scary. I felt like my body was trying to disappear.

I forced myself to raise my hand, and that action helped bring me back a little bit. It was really hard to speak. I managed to choke out, um, something to be aware of, for people with PTSD, a blindfold may be triggering -- or something like that, I'm not sure what I actually said.

The facilitator said, blindfolds will be optional -- but by then three hands had flown up. Someone said, I can't be blindfolded. Someone else said, I am hard of hearing, and I need to see the speaker's mouth in order to hear. Other people started murmuring about not wanting to be blindolded.

At that, the facilitator put down the bandanas that were going to be used as blindfolds, and said, You know what, this was just an idea, but it's obviously not a good one. So we'll leave that part out.

She was talking about the rest of the exercise, but the adrenaline was already zooming through my body. It doesn't settle down that quickly. I got up and stood apart from the group for a bit, trying to catch my breath, but I couldn't. So I quietly left the classroom.

A few seconds later, a woman (who had been my partner for some class activities) followed me out of the room. She stood beside me, and placed her hand gently on my back, and offered me a tissue. I hadn't realized I was crying. She listened to my words and my crying, sometimes nodding a bit, without saying a word. She didn't ask questions, didn't try to hug me. She also didn't act shocked or distressed herself. She just stood with me.

Her quiet support was soothing. It helped bring me back.

I went back to class. No one said anything to me. Everything resumed.

Accept and acknowledge

The next day, we started class with our morning check-in, and I decided I would address what happened. I said, "Yesterday was a very challenging day for me. Having my PTSD triggered in front of people was very hard. I'm usually open about most things in my life, wanting to smash stigmas and help other people feel less alone -- except about this. So that was really hard for me, but I'm glad I did it."

Another class rule was the shout-out to to a classmate, which would earn that person a raffle ticket. So I said, "I want to thank my team for taking care of me last night, and giving me space, and my team now includes M. Her quiet presence helped me so much yesterday, and I'm very grateful."

As I said in my earlier post, I didn't feel guilty or ashamed or like I had burdened anyone with my emotions. I was very grateful for M's kindness and strength, but I didn't feel indebted to her.

At first I thought, I've given enough to others that I'm allowed to accept some in return. Then I thought no, that's wrong, let's not measure our compassion or our worth.

If it's all right -- more than all right, it's good -- for someone to accept my help, then I can accept help, too. It's like I finally understand that I'm worthy of receiving help, by virtue of being human.


Amy said...

I am so sorry that you experienced that distress and also so glad that you both received and accepted support from others.

Abby said...

What a frightening experience for you, and what a great outcome. It’s so interesting that accepting help is so hard for some of us. But it’s a strength, not a weakness.

laura k said...

Thank you my friends.

M@ said...

Thanks for writing about this. It gives me a lot to think about.

With God's Help said...

Thank you for sharing this. Good to be reminded of how just being present can be helpful. And this: "I'm worthy of receiving help, by virtue of being human." Yes!